TAMPA — The 7-3 Ravens will pose a test for Tampa Bay in many regards, but one facet the Bucs feel prepared for is facing Baltimore's 3-4 defensive front.
The Ravens, like a growing number of teams, play with three down linemen and four linebackers, as opposed to the Bucs' more conventional 4-3 scheme.
It's a tactic more common among AFC teams, but because the schedule has paired the Bucs against the AFC North this season — three of its four teams use the 3-4 — there has been extensive preparation since the offseason.
"I think we've gotten better," against the 3-4, C Jeff Faine said. "I think that our execution and our play against Pittsburgh (in a 38-13 loss on Sept. 26) wasn't what it should have been. But I do think we're much better now than we were then. We've been tested quite a bit (more) now in the 3-4 than we were then. It's something I think we're a little more familiar with now that we've come along in the season."
The Bucs opened against a 3-4 Cleveland team, and since then, they've seen it — at least to some extent — against the Steelers, Cardinals and 49ers.
What makes the preparation different? The blocking matchups can vary widely against a 3-4, giving players different responsibilities than against a 4-3 team.
"It's a little bit different blocking schemes (and) a little bit different protection schemes," coach Raheem Morris said. "But we played (against) it last week, so we got a little bit of a jump with two weeks in a row on the 3-4. … Every week presents different challenges. No matter what you did last week, it's never going to be the same this week."
STATUS QUO: Morris on Friday sounded like he would resist the temptation to tinker with the starting offensive line. That means James Lee is likely to remain the starter at right tackle while Ted Larsen continues to man left guard.
The Bucs have been contemplating returning Jeremy Trueblood to right tackle for a couple of weeks, but Morris has stuck with Lee, the backup, even since Trueblood returned from a knee injury.
Asked Friday whether that decision has been a product of Trueblood's health or based on competition, Morris conceded it's a little of both.
"Right now, we're playing James and Trueblood's earning back his stripes through practice and throughout the week," Morris said. "He did a better job this week, so we look forward to getting him back as soon as we can. … James started this whole week (in practice), so there's a good chance you'll see James. But that's not ruling (out) that you'll see Trueblood within the game."
At left guard, the situation became a bit muddled last week when coaches inserted Jeremy Zuttah early against the 49ers and kept him in despite intentions to rotate him with Larsen. Morris maintained Larsen will start again Sunday, but there could be more rotating in store.